"We have the best group of Pro Management that I have ever worked with" | Martin Joyce Interview

04 August 2020

The role of a kit manager is to ensure everything runs like clockwork on a training day or matchday while remaining upbeat and good humoured. When we think of Connacht's legendary kitman Martin Joyce (Joycey) he is the epitome of everything the role should be.

Joycey is someone who keeps everyone in high spirits with his presence around the Sportsground.  His ten years with Connacht Rugby have given him enough stories to write a book. We sat down with him last week to discuss his return to the Sportsground along with some of his favourite memories with Connacht down through the years.

Joycey, how are you? You are usually travelling around the world in the Connacht Rugby van, how has life at home been over the last three months?

There was a lot of DIY done around the house, I think I painted for those three months. The kids got excited about painting the house for maybe an hour until they realised that a second coat needs to go on and that it can take three days, after that, I was left to do it by myself. The fact that we couldn’t go on holiday meant that the money we would usually spend was spent on household items. My wife loved buying the paint but didn’t actually paint herself!

My son works in Limerick, I drive him in from Clare twice a week in our car. The Connacht van had not moved in eight weeks, I thought I better give it a run-in case it seizes up. I was struggling to get into third gear because the gears are so different compared to the car. I was blaming the van but it was just me not being able to drive it after not sitting in it for so long. I would say there were cobwebs on it at one point. Since getting back to The Sportsground I am back to normal and it has become second nature again. There was a couple of times I thought this van doesn’t feel right at all.

Let’s go back to the start of your career, how did you get into this role?

I was made redundant from a job in 2003, Munster had advertised for a kitman in the local paper and I thought I am going to go for it but not say it to anyone, I stuck my name in the hat to see what would happen. As you know, things don’t work like that, you have to talk to someone. I confided in one of the guys at our local club and told him I had applied, he said that there was no chance I was going to get it unless I contacted someone in there. I got in contact with Keith Wood and he brought me up to spend a bit of time with the U20’s at Irish Camp in the Radisson, I spent a couple of days with them. I then did the interview with Munster a couple of weeks after that and was offered the job part-time, where I spent six years with them.

During that time I did an Irish U’20’s camp and went off to Japan where I met Nigel Carolan. When I returned, I heard that Connacht Rugby were looking for a full time kit manager, Nigel rang me and asked me if I was interested and that was it. I jumped at that opportunity and never looked back. So it’s Nigel’s fault that I am in Connacht! I joined in 2009 and did my 300th game against Montpellier this season before everything got shut down. I was going around telling everyone it was my 300th game but that opened me up to a world of abuse from all the team.

It seems like rugby was a big part of your family, did you have anyone else involved?

My great grandfather was involved in Garryowen RFC and my grandfather was a team manager with them, my father was the kit man for Garryowen for around 26 years. We lived with my grandparents growing up, it was always in the house, whether it was bags of jerseys or equipment. It was second nature to me in one way. I played a lot of rugby growing up, when you come to the realisation that you cannot play anymore, you look to get involved in some shape or form. I never looked down the road of coaching because I am probably too much of a home bird and with a coaching job it could bring you all over the world. It didn’t appeal to me, but when I saw the kit man advertisement, I knew I liked the idea of it.

Do you think your kids would like to carry that on?

I know my eldest would, I think he imagines himself hitting 18 and getting the keys to the van and storerooms in Connacht Rugby and giving me the boot. I am sure the lads in Connacht would be very happy with that, but I am not going anywhere for the moment just yet!

What have been the major changes since you returned to The Sportsground post quarantine?

There are a few little differences, as we head into week five things are starting to go back to normal. The major thing is the disinfecting of everything, anything that is touched must be sprayed and wiped down as we go from group to group and session to session. It rained heavily a few days last week which is tough on the lads without a dressing room. I probably have fewer miles on my feet because I would usually run the water which is normally a big job during pre-season when the lads split into smaller groups. Usually, I am running and racing around trying to keep up with them.

It must be hard without the dressing room because that seems to be where a lot of the bonding happens. Do you feel like it will be harder on the social aspect of training?

The dressing room interaction is something I do miss. It does have an effect especially with the new lads, they come in to do the session and they are straight back into their car and go home. There is no hang around area like the dressing room to create that atmosphere and have a bit of banter after the sessions. It is hard to make a connection with the new lads because you can’t get up close and shake hands. When you are always keeping a distance, it doesn’t feel as natural when it comes to bonding, but it’s what you must do. It must be more difficult for them because they have a big group that they need to get to know and only have a certain window that they can do it in.

Going back to your away trips have you ever left something majorly important back in Ireland during an away trip?

Luckily I haven’t, but it can very easily happen especially when you are flying, I can relax more when I am taking the van because you can load up on more things and put in two of everything so you know you have backup stock. When you get on a plane once you get the bags weighed they cannot go over the weight to get checked in. When you arrive at the airport you are always thinking to yourself “I hope these bags have made it”. Thankfully to this day, we haven’t had those issues, we have had bags that have gotten delayed but never long enough to effect anything. I always say everything can go missing except the kit, we can work around everything else and buy them on the other side if needs be. As long as the jerseys, socks, and shorts get off the plane we will work our way around everything else.

Have you ever experienced any nightmare trips where you have been stuck or delayed?

We went to Bayon a couple of years ago, I drove to Rosslare and the ferries were cancelled, I was meant to get on it for 4 pm and arrive the next day. I would have had two days to get down through France to Bayon. My plan was to spend the whole day driving down there and have a day before the lads arrived to chill out and relax after the long drive.

Since the Rosslare ferry was cancelled it meant that I had to go to Dublin the following day and get a ferry to Holyhead, that ferry got delayed and didn’t go until after lunch that day. Eventually, I got on and spoke to the customs officer and told him I needed to get on this ferry first so I can get off it first because I had to drive across Wales and down to Portsmouth to get on another ferry to France. I gave him a jersey and he got me off the ferry first, sometimes it is the best currency you can have in those situations. It was heavy mist and rain all the way to Portsmouth, I had our travel agent on the phone telling me that I was going to have to stay in England because I wasn’t going to make it, he wanted to book me into a place. I declined, I was determined to get there and pulled into the port around 3 minutes before it was due to close and ended up arriving in to the hotel 10 minutes before the lads.

What has been your favourite trip?

It’s funny, when we got delayed in Moscow it was a trip that could have been bad. The fact that all the travel went upside down actually made the trip. Sometimes the logistics don’t go to plan but they can end up being the best memories. We had issues all the way through, the balls deflated from the cold, the ink froze in the pens writing the subs cards. We had to use pencils instead and the players drank hot Mi Wadi at halftime. I will never forget Niyi at halftime, his hand was shaking and he was spilling the drink everywhere. Even though we got stuck in Moscow and it went wrong it made it fun, everyone split up into different groups and came back with their own stories. It was one of the best trips in my memory.

What is your favourite memory thinking back on your 10 years with Connacht Rugby?

I get asked this a lot and always say beating Leinster in my first season at home in Galway. They came down with a fully loaded team and we beat them. I was getting texts asking me why I was going to Connacht. After that it showed that we can beat anyone, you get a group of people that are willing to knuckle down and work hard it means you can achieve anything. The obvious one is the PRO12 win which was amazing but that Leinster win is my favourite memory.

There seems to be a great bond between all the coaching staff it seems like you all get on very well?

We have the best group of Pro Management that I have ever worked with. No matter what group you work in you may have someone you don’t get on with. But that is not the case in this group, everyone is honest with each other, we challenge each other and call each other out if needs be. It’s a great group and we all work very well together which makes life more enjoyable. It’s hard to be away from your family on the trips when you get stuck in airports or have a long trip but when you have a great group of people around you it makes it much easier.

I know you are big into your rock music, do the players mind you playing all your music in the dressing room?

My music in the dressing room has been shot down many times. We have moved away from it a fair bit because the lads will arrive into the dressing room with their headphones on listening to their own music. There used to be a time where there would be a speaker in the corner and you would blare out the music. I think my age starts to show when I want to put on heavy metal and the lads are looking for me to put on someone like Post Malone. Usually, by the time the lads arrive, I will turn off the speaker.

As the years go by I realise how old I am, one of the players was celebrating his birthday and I asked him what year was he born, he said 1993, I met my wife in 1993. But even though there is an age gap I don’t see the guys like that. I look at them as the lads and the people that I work with. Of course, some days I think, “I could be your father”. The older part of me comes out when players are having a problem or when you need to use your bit of experience to give them advice. But most of the time I just look at them as my colleagues.

It must be nice to witness the lads from a young age progressing through their careers?

It is fantastic working with the lads at such a young age, you see them progress from shy 19-year-olds to fully grown adults and some with their own families. It is very rewarding to work with them from a young age and to see them move up through the ranks and go on to achieve great things. To witness Jack Carty get his first cap with Ireland was amazing and watching him play in the world cup last year.

Last question for you, Friendy asked that all players and staff come back to the Sportsground having mastered one skill, what would you say yours was?

How to use Zoom and Microsoft teams, I had never heard or used them prior to all of this. I had a cold sweat before the first one, I hadn’t a clue how to use it. Now I can set up a call, invite people, I am basically a tech genius now! I also picked up my bass guitar for the first time in a while, which I have had since I was 19. I learned a bit when I got the guitar initially, I ended up putting it down one day and never picked it up again. I happened to speak to Deidre Lyons with RPI before lockdown, I was telling her that I struggle to switch off at times. I am constantly thinking about work and the things I need to do, she asked me if there was anything that I used to do that I don’t do anymore. I thought of my guitar and it has been a great tool ever since as it helps me switch off.